Skype for Business 2019 Now GA WHEY!

So without much fan fare or fuss, Microsoft’s latest version of Skype for Business Server officially entered General Availability this week. Yes 2019 is officially launched alongside Office 2019, Exchange Server 2019 and SharePoint Server 2019.

It was somewhat of a damp squib event with very little song or dance on the twittiverse from both Microsoft themselves and MVPs. An official Microsoft blog limped up on Tech Community to make the announcement like Lewis Hamilton stepping up to the 3rd place podium at the US F1 Grand Prix knowing he and his team were out performed by Ferrari.

However, unlike Lewis, where he is still undoubtedly the current world’s best at what he does and another year at the top is almost as certain as night follows day, the same it seems cannot be said about Skype for Business Server 2019.

And this is no surprise really

Sure, Skype for Business 2019 comes with some useful enhancements for some customers who are on their cloud journey, like leveraging cloud voicemail, ability to collocate on-prem CDR and QoE data in the cloud so they can report through one pane of glass across all their hybrid estate, the ability to use Cloud Auto Attendant (quietly renamed from Organizational Auto Attendant), Ability to use Cloud hosted meeting and of course in built TLS 1.2 support. But for many others, this seems like Microsoft are doing it their way and making sure that the next jump customers take will be their cloud for UC and Enterprise Voice. Que this song..

While this is commendable and trail blazing it doesn’t suit all and some (including many I know personally) will not take the message in a positive way. Instead, they’ll receive the message more like this…

Putting feelings aside now, let’s look at the reasons as to why you would want to upgrade to Server 2019.

One thing Skype admins are going to have to watch out for is if their messaging team decide their strategic direction is to implement Exchange Online or Exchange Server 2019. If this is the case, then you’re probably going to be forced into an upgrade since Exchange 2019 lacks voicemail facilities and Exchange Online will soon follow suit. As of now, Skype for Business 2015 does not support Azure voicemail, the system preferred and used by Microsoft Teams.

You may be running Windows Server 2012 or even 2008 R2 base OS on your Skype for Business Server 2015 nodes and with 2012 especially entering extended support, combine that with SQL 2012 as well then you may choose to upgrade your servers to Server 2016 or even more recent 2019 to protect you on OS support. This may be a good time to future proof your on-prem deployment to 2019 if your cloud journey is not expected to finish by 2020.

Another actually quite valuable reason to upgrade is the ability for on-prem users to leverage cloud audio conferencing and meetings. Offloading your meeting capability to the cloud could potentially improve capacity and performance whilst extending availability and coverage you struggled with in the past. By using Microsoft global dial in capability and their global network this could actually be very advantageous to some customers over what they have today. Will it lead to cost saving?  Not sure, that depends on your situation.

One thing is abundantly clear though, Microsoft want you in Teams and they are doing everything they can to make that happen. Why? We have to look at the migration path from 2015 to 2019.

No in place upgrade, which was a welcome addition to 2015 that pleased a lot of customers because they could reuse their 2 or 3 year old servers and extract the ROI they projected from them. Now we have to go back to side by side and the hardware requirement has almost doubled in some areas e.g. RAM from 32GB to 64GB (thank god it wasn’t 256GB like was originally floated around the DLs).

Couple the new hardware with you now need Server 2016 at a minimum to install 2019 and your Wintel team may yet to be at the point of being able to support the image which could be challenging and make the project stretch further than originally budgeted.

The most shocking and inexcusable omission from 2019 is that it no longer supports SQL mirroring. When I questioned this, the response was that most organizations wanting HA will have SQL Enterprise Licensing. I have to say I have done many deployments over tens of thousands of seats with HA and only may be 3 had enterprise licensing for SQL. The average enterprise cannot afford that licensing model and use Standard. So now if you want 2019 and you want HA for your databases then your only option is SQL Always On and that comes with Enterprise. Yes Standard allows you one database in a AOAG, and that would make your XDS database highly available but not others like LIS or your back end pool databases which basically means its irrelevant to the cause.

Now take into account that pretty much all admin diagnostic tools are deprecated e.g. snooper being the biggest means that debugging and tracing issues with your deployment just got a lot harder. Why would you deploy it if you cannot support it?

So to me 2019 right now is expensive and that may make customers who were hesitant or ignorant to the cloud look more closely at their options. One thing is for sure, 2019 is now a stepping stone to the cloud more so that 2015 and the cloud is where the focus is right now. Could 2019 be the last on-prem version we see? Certainly seems that way right now.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Yes SfB Server ends mainstream support in 2020, but it is still officially supported until 2025 in extended support, so now you can protect against Windows 2012 R2 exiting mainstream as of the 9th October 2018 and move to Server 2016 with a fraction of the investment it would take for 2019 and protect your business for another 6 years. Subject of course to the Exchange problem, but there are solutions out there that can be used.

Should we all protest at Redmond? Probably not. if we are sensible we would have seen the direction this was moving towards even before Teams was conceived, we knew the end game and it now appears closer than ever. The sooner people accept that the better because now you’ve a decision to make, adopt the Microsoft way forward which still has an incredible amount of value in the cloud or evaluate other solutions that fit more closely with your business needs.

Cloud maybe for everyone, or just some, whichever cloud (public or private) you choose it should be a free choice. This will probably be my last Skype for Business specific post because the organizations I work with today are all focused on moving towards Microsoft Teams.  I just wanted to give a balanced opinion on this version that both personalities can take away something of value from it.

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